Inconsistency of Species Tree Methods under Gene Flow

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Coalescent-based methods are now broadly used to infer evolutionary relationships between groups of organisms under the assumption that incomplete lineage sorting (ILS) is the only source of gene tree discordance. Many of these methods are known to consistently estimate the species tree when all their assumptions are met. Nonetheless, little work has been done to test the robustness of such methods to violations of their assumptions. Here, we study the performance of two of the most efficient coalescent-based methods, ASTRAL and NJst, in the presence of gene flow. Gene flow violates the assumption that ILS is the sole source of gene tree conflict. We find anomalous gene trees on three-taxon rooted trees and on four-taxon unrooted trees. These anomalous trees do not exist under ILS only, but appear because of gene flow. Our simulations show that species tree methods (and concatenation) may reconstruct the wrong evolutionary history, even from a very large number of well-reconstructed gene trees. In other words, species tree methods can be inconsistent under gene flow. Our results underline the need for methods like PhyloNet, to account simultaneously for ILS and gene flow in a unified framework. Although much slower, PhyloNet had better accuracy and remained consistent at high levels of gene flow.

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